Building a housing block does not necessarily generate a so-called city. And it does not bring economic profits anymore. After a decade of unprecedented real estate development, Madrid starts to deal with its contemporary ruins: on one hand, more than 47,000 empty apartments wait for a first buyer (Asprima report/Dec.2009), and on the other, hundreds of kilometres of perfectly paved streets run between eerie blocks, waiting for a first construction on their sides. Like in every economic recession, the Skyscraper Index showed that Spain four highest towers (accomplished in Madrid 2008) marked the beginning of the end of a buoyant era.
Our Road Trip through Madrid’s Bubble Challenge is an on-going photo-reportage of these frozen in time areas of development. Could failed urban speculation be turning into natural reserves for the city, where migrant birds can stop in their way to Africa, and even marshes and wild flora regain their seized original location? Can they become the natural protected areas of the future?
In the very late 1990s, Madrid passed a law to expand the city periphery with over 200,000 dwellings, perfectly aware that the population growth would not correspond at all with the construction tempo. City inhabitants simply followed the national guidelines for economic development based on home ownership as the highest profit-making investment mode. As Isabel Concheiro puts it when describing Spain as an interrupted country: “If the increase in housing had been mainly related to the construction of primary housing, we would not be talking about a housing bubble, but rather the evolution of a sector to overcome a deficit. Instead, we are dealing with a real estate bubble, as much of this growth is the result of urbanization for speculative purposes, irreversible transforming the landscape and creating housing stock that is difficult to reuse.” [CONCHEIRO, I.: Interrupted Spain in “After Crisis”. Lars Müller Publishers, ETH Zürich. 2011]
More than 140,000 planned dwellings have not been built yet [Madrid Urbanism Department 30/11/2010], but most of the streets have already been paved and signposted. Our series of photographs illustrate these contemporary urban voids placed back in a rural context. We propose to learn from the beauty of the unfinished. Decaying urban contexts, which tried to be a city, are mutating into a bucolic landscape. Former networks of pathways that were destroyed come back again; extinguished native plants become the true green areas for the metropolis, whose wild growth has not been avoided; place names evoke a narrative of a landscape to be recovered, sounds of an interrupted nature… We foster the unexpected, where the uninhabited used to be.
[all images by the authors]